As an industry we stand on the precipice of change! There is a lot going on in the cloud these days and Forrest Brazeal, Head of Content at Google Cloud, joins Corey again to talk about what's coming with his new career change! At the beginning of his transition to Google, Forrest goes into detail on what he is most excited to bring to the story telling of another cloud provider and how he is working to give back to the cloud community.
Forrest discusses his time at A Cloud Guru and how it helped him in his new transition, his time as an AWS Severless Hero, and the technical excellence he brings to his vast ranging and prolific content. Forrest is also a successful author of a newsletter and multiple books, to include a children's book about the cloud! Needless to say, Forrest is an incredibly varied personality in the cloud community, tune in for a chance to get to know him better!
Forrest is a cloud educator, cartoonist, author, and Pwnie Award-winning songwriter. He currently leads the content marketing team at Google Cloud. You can buy his book, The Read Aloud Cloud, from Wiley Publishing or attend his talks at public and private events around the world.
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.
Corey: This episode is sponsored in part my Cribl Logstream. Cirbl Logstream is an observability pipeline that lets you collect, reduce, transform, and route machine data from anywhere, to anywhere. Simple right? As a nice bonus it not only helps you improve visibility into what the hell is going on, but also helps you save money almost by accident. Kind of like not putting a whole bunch of vowels and other letters that would be easier to spell in a company name. To learn more visit: cribl.io
Corey: This episode is sponsored in part by Thinkst. This is going to take a minute to explain, so bear with me. I linked against an early version of their tool, canarytokens.org
in the very early days of my newsletter, and what it does is relatively simple and straightforward. It winds up embedding credentials, files, that sort of thing in various parts of your environment, wherever you want to; it gives you fake AWS API credentials, for example. And the only thing that these things do is alert you whenever someone attempts to use those things. It’s an awesome approach. I’ve used something similar for years. Check them out. But wait, there’s more. They also have an enterprise option that you should be very much aware of canary.tools
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I am Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, and as an industry, we stand on the precipice of change. There’s an awful lot of movement lately. It feels like the real triggering event for this was when Andy Jassy ascended from being the CEO of AWS—the cloud computing division of Amazon—to being the CEO of all of Amazon, including things like not just AWS, but also the underpants store. Suddenly, we have people migrating between different cloud providers constantly.
Today’s guest is a change I would not have expected and didn’t see coming. So, last year, on episode 127, called The Cloud Bard Speaks
I had Forrest Brazeal from A Cloud Guru joining me. Forrest, welcome back.
Forrest: Hey, thanks, Corey. Big fan of the show; always great to be here.
Corey: At the time that we’re recording this, you are unemployed, which is great because it’s Screaming in the Cloud. Screaming at people on your day off is always fun. But by the time it airs, you’ll have started your new job as the Head of Content for Google Cloud.
Forrest: Yes. And of course, that’s definitely a career change for me coming directly from A Cloud Guru, which was a wonderful place to be and it was exciting to be with them right up through their acquisition earlier this summer, but when it came time to make the next move, I ended up going to Google Cloud. I’ll be starting there on Monday after this recording has been completed, and just really looking forward to helping tell the story of the cloud at a much bigger scale, something that I’ve been doing throughout my career with increasing levels of scale. It’s exciting to do it at the level of an entire cloud provider.
Corey: We’ll get to the future in a minute, but I want to start by looking at the past. From my perspective, you were a consultant for a while at Trek10; we’ve talked about that before. You have an engineering background of building things with computers, at least presumably computers—you’ve been a big serverless advocate and I’m told that runs on computers somewhere, but I don’t want to get into that particular debate—to the point where you were—I assume were, not are anymore—an AWS Serverless Hero?
Forrest: Yes, that’s right, and even going back prior to Trek10, my background is in enterprise software. I helped to migrate some of the world’s largest enterprise applications from data centers to cloud when I was at Infor and continued to work on that kind of thing as a consultant later on. And in that time, I was working a lot with AWS, which was the only game in town for a lot of those years, right? You go back to 2014, 2015, I’m putting an enterprise app in the cloud, what am I going to put it on? Probably AWS if I’m serious about what I’m doing.
But it’s been amazing to see how the industry has grown and changed and the other options that have come along. And one of the cool things about my work in A Cloud Guru is that I really got a chance to branch out and expand, not just to AWS, but also to get a much better feel for the other cloud providers, for Azure and GCP, and even beyond to Oracle and some of the other vendors that are out there. And just to get a better understanding of how these different cloud providers thrive in different niches. So yes, it is absolutely a change for me; I obviously won’t be an AWS Hero anymore, I’m having to close that chapter, sadly; I love those people and that program, but it is going to be a new and interesting change. I’m going to have to be back in learning mode, back in catch-up mode as I get busy on GCP.
Corey: So, one thing that I think gets occluded with you because it definitely does with me is that you and I are both distinguishable personalities in the cloud community—historically AWS, let’s be clear here—and you do your own custom songs; you write a newsletter that instead of snarky is insightful—of which I’m jealous—but it still has a personality that shines through; you wrote a children’s book, The Read Aloud Cloud
; you wound up having a new book that just came out last week for folks listening to this the day of release, called The Cloud Resume Challenge Book
, if I’m getting the terms all in the right order?
Forrest: Yeah, exactly.
Corey: It’s like naming cloud services only naming books instead? It’s still challenging to keep all the words in the right order?
Forrest: You know, I think it actually transcends industries; naming things is hard whether you’re in computer science or not.
Corey: Whereas making fun of things’ names is a lot easier. It’s something you did not do—to my understanding—as an employee of A Cloud Guru, The Cloud Resume Challenge
, but it’s something you did as a side project because it interested you. It’s effectively, you want to get into tech, into cloud.
Great. Here’s a list of things I want you to do. And it ranges the gamut. And we talked about it before, but to my understanding it’s, build a statically hosted website that winds up building your resume, and a blog post, and how to do all these things, CI/CD, frontend, backend, the works. It’s a lot of work, but by the time you’re done, you know a heck of a lot more about the cloud provider you’re working with than you did when you started.
Forrest: Yeah, not only do you know more than you did when you started, but quite frankly, you’re going to know more than a lot of people who’ve even been doing this kind of thing for a couple of years. That’s why we have people that take The Cloud Resume Challenge, who are not only aspiring cloud engineers but who have been doing this for a while, maybe even are hiring people, and they see this project and say, “Wow. That would look good on my resume. I’ve never actually sat down and plugged a frontend and a backend together on AWS,” and, “Maybe I’ve never had to actually sit down and think carefully about how I would build a CI/CD pipeline,” or, “I really want to get my hands dirty with Terraform,” or something like that. So, we see a whole range of people.
I did a survey on this actually, and I found that about 40% of all the people who take The Cloud Resume Challenge have three years or more of professional IT experience. So, that should tell you how impressive it is, if you can figure this out as a brand new person to cloud. That’s why we’ve seen so many of these folks change careers and go from things like plumbing, and working in a bank, and working in HR, and whatever else to starting roles, now, as cloud engineers and DevOps engineers. It’s not entirely due to the challenge; not even mostly due to the challenge. These are folks who are self-motivated, quick learners, and are going to succeed no matter what, but The Cloud Resume Challenge was the thing that came on at the right time for them to build those skills and show what they had.
Corey: And the fact that you put this together is incredibly uplifting for folks new to the field. And that’s amazing, and it’s great, and it’s more content, the kind that I think that we need in this industry. You also launched a newsletter last week: the cloud jobs newsletter, which is fantastic. It’s a pay-to-subscribe newsletter—which I’ve always debated experimenting with but never did—and lists curated jobs in the industry, sorted by level of experience required and things that you find personally interesting. You might have sponsored job listings in the future that you’ve already said would be clearly delineated from the others, which is the ethically right thing to do. You are seemingly everywhere in the cloud space.
Forrest: Well, I mean look, I’m trying to give back. I’ve benefited from folks like yourself and others who have made time to help lift my career over the years, and I really want to be here to help others as well. The newsletter that you mentioned the Best Jobs in Cloud, it does have a small fee associated with it, but that’s really just to help gate my [laugh] referrals so that they don’t end up getting overwhelmed. You actually can get free access to the newsletter with the purchase of The Cloud Resume Challenge Book we talked about before. It’s really intended to be a package deal where you prepare your resume by doing these projects, and there’s a lot of other advice in that book about how to get yourself positioned for a great career in the cloud.
And then you have this newsletter coming into your inbox every couple of weeks that lays out a list of jobs and they’re broken down by, you know, these are jobs that are best for juniors, these are jobs where you’re going to need some senior-level experience. Because what I found—and honestly, I’ve been kind of acting as a talent agent for a lot of engineers over the past several years as my network has grown, and I’ve tried to give back to others and help to connect folks who are eagerly trying to find great engineers for cool projects that are working on with folks who are eagerly looking for those opportunities. And what I’ve realized is whether you’re a junior or whether you’ve been doing this for a long time, let’s face it, most of us are not spending all of our time being those distinguishable personalities that you mentioned a minute ago. I like how you said distinguishable and not distinguished by the way; those are two very different words. But most of us are not spending our time doing that.
You know, we’re working engineers; we’re working, right? We’re not blogging and tweeting all the time and building these gigantic personal networks. So, it helps if you can have a trusted friend standing alongside you so that when you are thinking about maybe making a switch, or maybe you’re not thinking about making a switch but you should be because of where the market is, that friend is coming alongside you and saying, “Hey, this is an awesome opportunity that I think you should consider checking out; why not just do the interview. Even if you’re not really looking to move, it’s always important to keep your skills fresh.” That’s what this newsletter is designed to do. I hope that it’ll be helpful for you, no matter where you are in your cloud career, as long as you’re staying in the cloud space.
Corey: And the fact that’s how you view this is the answer to a question a lot of folks have asked me over drinks with theoretical conversations for years of, “Well, Corey, if you went to go work at one of these big cloud providers, it destroy everything you’ve built because how in the world could you be authentic while working for one of these companies?” And the answer is exactly what you’re doing. It’s, “Yeah, the people who pay you don’t own you.” I cannot imagine that even Google could afford to buy your authenticity from you because once that’s gone, you don’t get it back, and you’re one of those people in this space, that—I’m not entirely sure that you understand where you are in this space, so let me help enlighten you with that for a minute.
Forrest: Oh, great. [laugh].
Corey: Oh, yeah, like, the first thing I was starting to talk about that we have in common is that we do a lot of content, both of us and that sometimes occludes the very real fact that we have a distinct level of technical expertise, historically. You and I can both feel relatively deep technical questions about cloud services, but because our job doesn’t have the word engineer in the title, it doesn’t lead to the same type of recognition of that fact. But I want to be very clear: you are technically excellent at what you'll do. You also have a distinguished personality and brand in the space, and your authenticity is also unparalleled. When you say something is good, it is believed that it is because you say it, and the inverse is also true.
You’re also someone that is very clearly aligned with fighting for the user if you want to quote Tron. It’s the, you’re not here to shill for things that don’t get people ahead in their careers; you’re not here to prop things up just because that’s where the money is blowing. Your position on this is unimpeachable. And I’m going to be clear here: I am more interested in Google Cloud now than I was before you made this announcement. That is the value of having someone like you aboard, and frankly, I’m astonished they managed to grab you. It shows a forward-looking ability that historically I have not associated with cloud marketing groups.
Forrest: Yeah, well I mean, the space changes fast. And I think you’ve said this yourself as well, even with the services; you look away for six months and you look back and it’s not the same industry you remember. And that actually is a challenge when you talk about that technical credibility because that can go away very, very quickly. So, it does require some constant effort to stay fresh on that, especially if you’re not building every single day. But to your point about the forward-looking-ness of Google Cloud, I really am excited about that and that’s honestly the biggest thing that attracted me to what they’re doing.
They clearly understand, I think, their position in the space. We know they’re three out of three and trying to catch up, and because of that, they’re able to [laugh] be really creative. They’re able to make bold choices and try things that you might not try if you were trying to maintain a market-leading position. So, that’s exciting to me. I’m a creative person, I like to do things that are outside the box and I think you can look forward to seeing some more outside-the-box things coming at Google Cloud here over the next couple of years.
Corey: I’d be astounded if it were otherwise. The question I have for you is that ‘Head of Cloud’ is not a junior role. That’s not something entry-level that you’re just going to pick some rando off of LinkedIn to fill. They’re going to pick a different rando: you specifically as one of those randos. And to my understanding, you’ve never really touched Google Cloud in anger from a technical level before. Is that right? Am I dramatically misunderstanding, “Oh yeah, you don’t remember the whole musical, and three-act stage play that you put on, and the music video, and the rock opera all about Google Cloud?” It’s, “No, I must have been sick that week,” because that’s the level of prolific you tend to be?
Corey: What is your experience with it?
Forrest: That’s yet to come. So, check back on the Google Cloud rock opera; we’ll see if that takes place. So no, I’m going to be learning about Google Cloud. This will be a chance for me to kind of start over a little bit from first principles. In another sense, I’ve been interacting with Google services for years.
Keep in mind that Google Cloud is not just Google Cloud Platform, but it’s G Suite as well, and there’s a lot going on there. So, I definitely am going to be going back to being a beginner a little bit here. They do say if you can teach something to a beginner, you have to really understand it at an expert level. And I know that whether I’m doing this officially on behalf of Google or otherwise, I’m going to be continuing to try to help and educate folks wherever I can. So, it’s going to be incumbent on me, if I want to keep doing that, to go deep quickly and continue to learn.
I’m excited about that challenge. I’ve been doing a lot with AWS for a long time, I don’t know everything. In fact, I know less every day with the amount that they’re continuing to roll out, but this is a chance for me to expand, become a more well-rounded person to see how the other cloud lives. I’m taking that very seriously; I’m not going to be an expert overnight, but stick around, follow me. I’m going to be learning, I’m going to share what I learned, and maybe we’ll all get a little better Google Cloud together.
Corey: The thing I can’t quite get past is that when you told me that you had resigned from A Cloud Guru, I want to be selfish here and say that there were two things that went through my mind. The first was, “Okay, it’s probably AWS. I hope it’s AWS,” because the alternative is you’re going somewhere potentially independent, and I know you keep arguing with me on this point but you are one of the few people I could point out that could start something on the basis of cloud content with a personal brand that I would view as potentially being an audience split for what I do. And it’s, “Oh, you’re going to go work for a big cloud company. That’s awesome. Is it AW—no, it’s not.” And that one threw me for a different loop where it’s, that is very odd because you have identified, clearly, publicly as the leading voice in AWS in many contexts. It just really surprised me. Did you consider looking at AWS as an alternative?
Forrest: I mean first, I don’t know that it’s fair to say that I was a leading voice for AWS. There’s many wonderful people that [crosstalk 00:14:13]—
Corey: To be clear, Forrest, that was not a question. You are a leading voice in the community for AWS and understanding how it works. That is one of those things that no one knows their own reputation. This is one of those areas. Take it from me—a thought leader—that it’s true. Please continue.
Forrest: You have led my thoughts in that direction, so thanks for that, Corey. But to your question, Corey, regarding how did I decide what career move to make, and definitely was a challenge. And it was a struggle for me to say, well, I’m going to leave behind this warm, friendly AWS community that I know, and try something brand new. But it’s not the first time I’ve done something like that in my career. You mentioned already that I spent a number of years as a very, very technical person and I identified strongly as an engineer.
I had multiple degrees in computer science and I had worked as a frontend/backend software engineer, I’d worked as a database administrator, I’d worked as a cloud engineer, and a manager of cloud engineers, and I’d consulted for companies from startups all the way up to the Fortune 50, always on cloud and always very hands-on and writing code. I’ve never had a job where I didn’t have an IDE open and wasn’t writing code every day. And it was a tremendous shock to my system when I started moving away from that, moving a little bit more into the business side of cloud, learning more about marketing, learning how to impact the bottom line of a company in other ways. That was a real challenge, and I went through months where I kind of felt like I was having an identity crisis because if I’m not writing code if I didn’t create YAML today, who am I? Can I call myself an engineer? What worth do I have?
And I know a lot of folks have struggled with this, and a lot of times, I think that’s what sometimes holds people back in their career, saying, “Well, I can only do what I’ve already done because I’ve identified myself so strongly with it.” So, I’m encouraging anyone who’s listening, if you’re at that point where you feel like, “I don’t know if I can leave behind what I know because will I still be able to succeed?” I would encourage you to go ahead and take that step and commit to it if you really believe that you have an opportunity because growth is ultimately going to be a good thing for you. Getting outside your comfort zone and feeling those unpleasant cracks as you start to grow and change into a different person, that ultimately is a strength-building thing.
If you’re not growing, you’re not struggling, you’re not going to be the person that you want to be. So, tying all that back, I went through one round of that already, Corey, when I moved a little bit away from technical delivery. I’m about to go through a second round of that when I move away a little bit farther from the AWS community. I believe that’s going to be a growth opportunity. But yeah, it’s going to be hard.
Corey: It really is. The idea of walking away from the thing that you’ve immersed yourself in is really an interesting thing to think about. Forgive me in advance for the next question; I have to ask it. As a part of your interview process at Google, do they make you write code in a Google Doc?
Forrest: Not as a part of this interview process. I interviewed at Google years ago for a developer advocate position, actually, and made it all the way through their interview process, writing many lines of code in many Google Docs, but not this time.
Corey: Yeah, I confess, I did the same with an SRE job many years ago at Google, and again, you are better at writing code than I am; I did not progress past this stage. But it was moot, honestly, because the way that the interview was conducted, the person I was talking to was so adversarial at the time and so, I got to be honest, condescending that I swore I would never put myself through that process again. But I was also under the impression that the ritualistic algorithmic hazing via whiteboarding code was sort of a requirement for every role at Google. So, things change, times change, people change. I’m gratified to know that was not a part of your interview process.
Forrest: Well, I mean, I think it was more just about the role. My favorite whiteboard interview—
Corey: Nonsense. Every accountant must be able to solve code on a whiteboard.
Forrest: No, I don’t think that’s true. But my favorite whiteboard interview story and I’m sure you have a few, I remember being in an interview with someone—I won’t say who it was or what company it was, but it wasn’t not Google—it was some sort of problem where I was having to lay out, I don’t know, a path for a robot to take through an environment or something like that. And I wrote the code, and it was fine. It was, like, iterative. It was what you would do if you had ten minutes to write something.
And then the interviewer looked at the code, and he said, “Great, now write it again, but don’t use any variables.” And I remember sitting there
for a minute thinking, “In what professional context [laugh] would someone encourage you to do that in a pair programming situation?”
Corey: Right. The response there is, “What the hell does your codebase in production look like?”
Forrest: [laugh]. And of course, the answer is you’re supposed to be using, like, the stack, and it’s kind of like this thought exercise with the local stack. But even if you were to do that, the performance hit would be tremendous. It would not be a wise or logical way to actually write the code. So, it was a pure trivial, kind of like a just academic exercise that they were recommending. And I remember being really turned off by that. So, I guess if you’re considering putting problems like that in your interview process, don’t. They’re not helpful.
Corey: Yeah, I remember hearing at one point one of the Microsoft brain teasers which they’ve since done away with—credit where due—where someone was asked, “How would you go about finding out the weight of a Boeing 747?” And the person responded with the exact weight of a Boeing 747 because their previous job had been at Boeing for seven years. And that was apparently not what they were expecting to hear. But yeah, it’s sort of an allegory as well for, first, this has no bearing on your ability to do the job, and two, expertise is important. There’s a lot of ways I could try and Hacker News first principles my way through something like that, but the easier answer is for me to call someone at Boeing and ask them, or Google it, depending on exactly how precise I need to be and whether lives hang in the balance of the [laugh] answer to the question. That’s a skill that seems lost somewhere, too.
Forrest: Yeah, and this takes us all the way back to the conversation about The Cloud Resume Challenge, Corey. And why it works is it takes the burden of proof off of you in the interview, or the burden of proof off the interviewer to have to come up with some kind of trivial problem that you’ve done under time pressure, and instead, it lets the conversation flow naturally back to, “Well, what have you done? Tell me about a story about a problem that you have solved, a challenge you ran into, and how you got past it.” That’s all work that has taken place prior to the interview that you’ve reflected on, that’s built you as a person and as an engineer, even if you don’t necessarily have professional experience. That’s how I try to conduct interviews and I think it’s a much healthier and more sustainable way to find people that you’ll like to work with.
Corey: Is this going to be your first outing at a giant multinational tech company?
Forrest: No, although it will be my first time with a public company. When I worked at Infor, Infor was the largest privately owned software company in the world. I don’t know if that’s still technically true or not, but it’ll be my first time with a publicly-traded company.
Corey: Fantastic. The nice thing from my perspective is it gives me a little bit more context into what companies can and can’t do, and how things are structured. It feels like your content—I mean, the music videos and things and whatnot that you do—I mean, you have something that I don’t, which is commonly known as musical talent. And that’s great. I can write funny lyrics, but you are not just able to write lyrics, you’re able to perform, you’re able to sing, the unanswered question for the entire interview right now is whether you can also dance. So, we’re going to find that out at some point.
Forrest: You would think that I could, Corey. I definitely seem like someone who should be able to tap dance. I regret to tell you that I can’t, but I want to learn.
Corey: For a lot of this, it’s clearly you’re doing this in front of your own piano with a microphone in front of you, doing it live, and having a—I don’t know if it is a built-in webcam to a laptop that’s sitting in front of you or something else, but—
Forrest: I’m playing with that.
Corey: Yeah, well don’t take this the wrong way; it’s not a high definition 4k camera, et cetera. It’s the Lightning’s—eh, it’s your home office. You’re comfortable there. It’s not a studio. What I’m most excited about—from my perspective, I know what you’re excited about—but you’re now going to be producing content for Google and I checked the numbers in preparation for this interview.
It’s okay, can Google wind up affording a production house of some sort to work on your videos to upscale the production value of some of what you’re doing? And I have checked; it is not the likeliest scenario—and I have no inside knowledge for those who are trying to trade on
this—but yes, it turns out that Google could, in fact, shore up your content by buying you Disney.
Forrest: I think that’s technically true, and I do expect that to happen in the next three to six months, so that is completely inside information.
Corey: Oh, exactly. Have reasonable expectations, but you could let it go as long as a year because that’s when the first annual review cycle comes in and you want to give people time to let that clear through M&A and make sure that they are living up to their commitments to you, of course.
Forrest: That’s right, yeah. We’re just about to go into the quiet period there. No, but kind of to that point, though, and you bring up the amateurish quality of a lot of these videos that I put together in terms of the lighting and the staging, and everything else. And I am doing a little bit to help with that. Like, it would be great if you could see—
Corey: To be clear, that is not a criticism. I’m in the same boat as you are on this. It’s—[laugh]—
Forrest: So, far from a criticism, it’s actually pretty deliberate. The fact of the matter is, there’s something very raw, very authentic about just seeing someone sitting in their house, at their piano, playing and singing. There’s no tricks, there’s no edits, there’s no glitz, there’s no makeup team behind the scenes, there’s no one who’s involved with this other than just me caring a lot about something and sitting down and singing about it. And I think some of that is what helps come across to people and it helps these things travel. So yeah, I’m looking forward a lot to being able to collaborate with other fantastic people at Google, and I can’t exactly promise what will come out of that, but I’m quite sure there will be more fun content to come.
But I hope never to lose that, kind of, DIY sensibility. Because, again, my background is as an engineer, and the things I create, whether it’s music, whether it’s cartoons, whether it’s books, or other things I write, I never want to lose that sense of just excitement about the technologies I’m working with and the fact that I get to use the tools that are available at my disposal to share them with you as directly and honestly and humanly as possible.
Corey: Up next we’ve got the latest hits from Veem. Its climbing charts everywhere and soon its going to climb right into your heart. Here it is!
Corey: No matter how hard you try, you’re not able to hide the sheer joy you take from even talking about this sort of stuff, and I think that’s a powerful lesson. For folks listening to this who want to expand into their own content story and approach things that they find interesting in a way that they enjoy, don’t try and do what I do; don’t try to do what Forrest does; do the thing that makes you happy. I would love to be able to sing, but I can’t. I can write funny lyrics, but those don’t do well in pure text form. I’m fortunate that I was able to construct a structure on my end where I can pay people who do know how to sing—like Adeem the Artist and many more—to participate in a lot of the things that I get to work on.
But find the way that you want to express things and do you. You’re only ever going to be second best at being Forrest or being Corey, but you’re always going to be number one at being whoever you happen to be. I think that’s a lesson that gets overlooked an awful lot.
Forrest: Yeah, I’ve been playing with this thought for a while that the only real [moat 00:24:24] out there is originality, is your personality. Everything else can be cloned, but you are an individual. And I mean that to us specifically, Corey, and also the general ‘you’ to anybody listening to this. So, find what makes you tick. It sounds like the most cliche device in the world, but another way, it’s also the only useful advice that’s out there.
Corey: I want to be clear, you don’t work there yet and I’m not here to effectively give undue praise to large companies, but I just want to say again how the sheer vision of hiring you is just astounding to me. That it makes perfect sense, don’t get me wrong, but because I know that every large company, somewhere, at some point, internally has had a conversation of, “We really should hire Corey, except…” well, I’ve got to level with you, Corey without the except parts looks an awful lot like you.
Forrest: Yeah, you know, you brought up earlier this idea that well, hopefully, Forrest doesn’t lose his authenticity at Google. And one of the things that I appreciate about the team that I’ve talked to there so far, is that they really do understand the power of individuals and voices. And so that’s not going to happen. You know, my authenticity is not for sale. And frankly, I’m useless without it, so it wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interest to buy it anyway. And that would be true for you as well, Corey. Whatever you end up doing, whether you someday ascend to the head of AWS Marketing, as is apparently your divine destiny, I know that—
Corey: Well, I’m starting to worry that there’s not too many people left in that org, so I’m worried people took me seriously and they think I’ve got this in hand or something.
Forrest: You may be the last man standing for all we know. You may be able to go in and just, kind of, do this non-hostile takeover where there’s just no one there to defend against you, anymore.
Corey: Well, speaking about takeovers and whatnot, we talk about Google acquiring Disney so you now have a production studio on this. But let’s talk about actual hard problems you’re going to be solving there. Do you think you can bring back Google Reader?
Forrest: That would be my dream. I have no inside knowledge of what would even be required to bring that off, but I think it’s obvious that it’s not just about that particular product that people like—because yes, you or I could go make a startup and create something that did what Google Reader did—but it’s about what it represents. It’s about the commitment that it would mean to Google’s customers and to their products. So yeah, something like bring Google Reader back would be a wonderful thing for everyone that subscribes to Google but it would also be a fantastic storytelling element for Google as well. So yes, I’d be entirely in favor of something like that. I hope we can make it happen someday.
Corey: Oh, as would I. YOu’re in Brian Hall’s org, correct?
Corey: Brian is a man who was the VP of Product Marketing over at AWS, went to Google for the same role, was sued by AWS under the auspices of a non-compete, which is just the most ridiculous thing in the world, and I want to be very clear here, you can say an awful lot about Brian Hall. I say an awful lot about Brian Hall. AWS says a lot about Brian Hall in very poorly conceived depositions and lawsuits that should never have been allowed to continue, and at least have an editor go over them, but that’s a separate problem. But one thing you cannot say about Brian is that he is not incredibly intelligent. And the way that I find that manifesting is, I do not accept that he is someone with such a limited vision that he would be prepared to even entertain the idea of hiring you without giving you what amounts to effectively full creative control of the things you’re going to be working on.
You are not someone it would make any sense to hire and then try and shove into a box. That is my assessment of everything I’ve read on every conversation I’ve had with Googlers in the marketing org; it all speaks to something like this. Was that your impression during the interview? Specifically that you have carte blanche, not that Brian is smart. You’re about to be in his org; you’re obligated to say it. That’s okay. We’ll meet at the bar until the real Brian stories later but I’m talking about their remit here.
Forrest: No, my authenticity is not for sale, but at the same time. I am a big fan of Brian’s and have been since his AWS days, which was honestly one of the big reasons why I ended up joining his org. But yeah, to your question about what is that role going to look like, day to day, of course obviously, that remains to be seen, but it is my understanding that it will have a consultative element and that I will have some opportunity to help to drive some influence across some different teams. Something that I’ve learned as I’ve grown in my career a little bit and I’ve moved into more of management type of roles is that the people that report to you are such a small fraction of the overall influence that you should be having to be really successful in a role like that, any kind of leadership role, so much more of your leadership is going to happen indirectly and by influence, and it’s going to happen slowly over time, as you build support for what you’re doing and you start to show value and encourage other people to come around to your side. That’s just the reality of making change in large organizations.
And of course, this is by far the largest organization I’ve ever worked in, so I know it’s going to take time. But my understanding is I do have a little bit of leeway to bring some of my ideas in, and I’m excited about that, and you can sort of judge for yourself, how successful I am, over time.
Corey: My last question for you is that sort that has the potential to get you in trouble, except I think I’m going to agree with your answer to this. Do you believe that they’re going to Google Reader Google Cloud?
Forrest: If I believed that I wouldn’t be joining? So obviously, no, I don’t believe that.
Corey: I have to confess that for the longest time, I was convinced that this was yet another Google misadventure, where they were going to dabble with it, sort of half-ass it, and then shut it down. Because that seems to be the fate of so many Google products out there. The first AWS service that entered beta was Simple Queuing Service. What is a queue but a messaging system, and we know how Google treats messaging products. Same problem; same story.
I have to say over the last year or so, my perspective has evolved considerably. They are signing ten-year deals with very large banks; they are investing heavily in hiring, in R&D, in marketing clearly, in a bunch of different areas that are doing the right thing for the long-term. The financial analysts like to beat Google Cloud up because I think two quarters ago, they showed a $5 billion loss, either for the year or for the quarter, and, “It’s not making money.” It’s, “No. Given Google’s position in the market, I’d be horrified if it were. The only way it shouldn’t be turning a profit is if there’s nowhere left to invest in the platform.”
They’re making the investments, they’re doing the right things. And I have to say I’ve gone from, “I don’t know if I would trust that without an exodus plan,” to, “Yeah, you should have a theoretical exodus plan the same way you should with any provider, but it’s not the sort of thing that I feel the need to yank away on 30-days’ notice.” I have crossed that bridge myself. In all sincerity, cheap, easy jokes aside, it’s clear to me from what I’ve seen that Google Cloud is going to be around for the long term. Now, we are talking long-term in terms of tech companies, not 150-year-old companies based in Europe, but we can aspire to it. I expect it to outlive me, and not just because I have a big mouth and piss off large companies.
Forrest: Yeah. Some of my closest friends and longest-tenured colleagues, people I’ve worked with for years are GCP engineers, people who are not working for GCP, but they’re building on GCP services at various companies. And they always come to me and I’ve noticed a steady increase in this over the past, I would say 12 to 18 months where they say, “I love working on GCP. I love these services. I love the way the IAM is designed. I love the way the projects are put together. It just feels right. It feels natural to me. It scratches some sort of an itch in my engineering brain.”
And then they pause and they say, “Why don’t more people get this? Why don’t more people understand this story?” That’s a problem that I can help to solve. So, I’m really excited about helping to tell the story of Google Cloud. And yeah, that chapter is just about to be written.
Corey: I can’t wait to see what happens next. If people want to learn more about what you’re up to, and how you’re approaching these things, and sign up for your various newsletters, where’s the entry point? Where can they find you?
Forrest: I would say go to my Twitter. I’m on Twitter @forrestbrazeal
and there’ll be a link in my bio that has links to all the things we’ve mentioned: The Cloud Resume Challenge Book
, my other extremely bizarre book about cloud which is called The Read Aloud Cloud
. And there you can sign up for that Best Jobs in Cloud
newsletter and all the other things we talked about. So, I’ll see you there.
Corey: I look forward to including those links in the [show notes 00:32:24]. That’s how I wind up expressing my support for all of my guests’ nonsense, but particularly yours. Forrest, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.
Forrest: Much appreciated, Corey. Always a pleasure.
Corey: Forrest Brazeal, currently unemployed, but by the time you listen to this, the Head of Content at Google Cloud. I am Cloud Economist Corey Quinn and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you’ve hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice along with a long, obnoxious, insulting comment, and then rewrite the entire insulting comment without using vowels.
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